Jim Varagona

Tag: Family

Redirect – Dealing with Loss

14 years ago, my brother, Matt, died. I know. It sounds like that other post, but it was on this very day, 14 years ago. It may have been an average day outside, unlike what we’ve seen this year, but it was anything but that for the friends and family of my brother.

Matt, in his later years with his prized Haro bike

Matt, in his later years with his prized Haro bike

Typically a February brings this all back and I’ll have flashes of it through the month. Writing the other post helped quite a bit by purging much of what flashes in my head from that time. I think it’s not very understood what happens after such an event, especially for folks that have never experienced a death of someone so close. I know I can make conversation awkward for people when they ask about siblings and I clarify by saying “two siblings, one deceased.” That’s fine. I get it. I’ve gone through the stages of grief and believe I have made peace with that horrible time.


Brothers at the top of the Sears Tower

Guilt is useless but happens on occasion. Early on, I wondered if we could’ve done more. We trusted opinions of doctors we had seen for quite some time. On a side note, the same pediatrician office blew off my sudden weight loss and frequent urination saying I was a growing boy. It turned out to be Type 1 Diabetes which we only discovered after pushing further beyond the initial analysis. Even when we got Matt to the hospital though, it took them over a week in their care to get a solid idea of what was going on. It was too late for him once he arrived there. You can place blame but it does no good.

I was angry at doctors. I was angry at Matt, thinking he had any bit of control over his situation. I wished he would’ve complained more when he had the ability to, but the thing was just like the rest of us, his condition seemed bad, but nothing that could’ve ended the way it did. I was angry at any remaining notions I had of a god. I remember watching my mother struggle with it initially, but my parents’ faith seems to be pretty strong now. I don’t discuss my belief system much, not wanting to push others or listen to a spiel for me.

The depression was horrible. Many would say “I can’t imagine.” One girl I went to high school with actually said, “If that happened to me, I would kill myself.” I actually calmed her friends down and said that is an honest reaction. I’m sure a lot of people felt that way. I thought of Matt a lot. I would think that one day I would run upstairs to his room and he’d magically be there. Maybe it was a magnificent ruse. Maybe it was all my bad dream.

The dreams were interesting, incidentally. Every night was a different spin on what had happened. Most often, Matt came home from the hospital but was very sick. He had enough time and good days though to have gatherings and say goodbyes. Other times would be a normal dream, like the ones where you show up at your grade school in a towel, but it’s your high school and people you work with are there, and he just drops into it like it’s nothing. I actually welcomed the dreams.

Anxiety brought on an ulcer. My father had a bout of anxiety to the extent that we thought it was a heart attack. This was a week after Matt died. My parents said I had to get him to the hospital. We got into their Grand marquis and made the 15 minute drive. My dad was laying in the back seat, moaning, and telling me to flag down a police car. I flashed my brights at a cop car. The officer seemed puzzled and asked what was going on. I explained and asked if he could escort us, at my parents’ insistence. He replied that he didn’t do that kind of thing, so we went on our way. I hopped on the highway and sped to the exit for the hospital. The cop actually followed me and didn’t pull us over. We were in the Emergency Room at Barnes Hospital for a while as doctors checked him out. I paced around the waiting room most of the time. I called a friend from a pay phone to let her know that I probably wouldn’t make it out to bowl with them s planned that night. It was an odd feeling to explain what was going on after what had already occurred in the previous few weeks.

As I sat and waited for news in the waiting room, I had some tears in my eyes. A man probably 10, maybe 20 years older than me, that looked pretty tough, glanced over at me and said “Hey man, let me show you something outside.” It was a vulnerable moment. What else did I have to lose at that point? I walked outside the ER and he had a brand new, black Monte Carlo parked outside. He was really proud of it. Honestly, the car didn’t do much for me. We talked for a bit about why I was there and his mother that was there. It was nice that someone seemingly so different from me would attempt to cheer me up or at least distract me. Sometimes sharing experiences is all we need to do that. Or just listening to someone share theirs even.

Dad didn’t have a heart attack. It was anxiety. I managed to meet up with my friends at the bowling alley. A guy that didn’t come around as much, a friend of a friend if you will, was there. Last I saw him was back at the birthday party on February 13th when Matt was in the hospital. His first words to me were “So how’s your brother?” Oh boy. I said “He died!” and stormed off to chain smoke my Parliaments. I believe it was that same night that “Only God Knows Why” by Kid Rock came on the jukebox there, which we played at Matt’s burial. Something was trying to condition me for that grief thing.

My parents and I attended a few sessions of group grief counseling. One time was helpful, I suppose. It’s good to see other people struggling like you are. I had just finished reading “Fight Club” though and was a big fan of the movie. Support groups are used to comedic effect as the narrator attends them to be something that he isn’t. There’s the stereotypical going around the circle, introducing yourself and why you’re there, and then everyone says hello. Being a real part of that was a little humorous to me after the first session. Luckily there were no group hugs. I did hear fascinating stories of how others’ loved ones died from a brown recluse spider bite to being decapitated after driving under a tractor trailer. Several people talked of seeing apparitions of their loved ones. I just couldn’t get into that. Obviously, everyone deals with grief differently.

What helped me get through it all was the dreams. I felt crazy at the time since most nights I was interacting with my dead sibling in different versions of his future. It was better than being around people that didn’t necessarily understand. It was a dark place. I grew apart from friends. Mental and emotional states change so much. No one is really prepared for it. At some point though, I woke up from hanging with my brother and knew that I had to redirect the emotions.

Scan066, February 15, 200401

My mother and I in deep discussion at the benefit

My family became good friends with the parents of some of Matt’s friends. I conveyed to a mother of one of his friends that we needed to have a benefit. I provided the idea, but everyone else ran with it. It was a beautiful thing to watch everyone direct so much energy into something positive to remember Matthew. Instrumental were my mother and sister as well as Teresa Harvey and Denise Miller. Everything was donated for raffles and silent auction. Food and drink for an open bar was all donated. We had a speaker from the Wegener’s Granulomatosis Support Group (now the Vasculitis Foundation), Judy Brown, give a slide show presentation of the condition that killed Matt. It was important that we create awareness on top of bringing people together to remember our loved one and raise funds for researching Wegener’s Granulomatosis. We did a smashing job, raising $19,000 that one night, March 31, 2001, a little over a year after Matt had passed away.

Scan066, February 15, 200404

Grooving with Explosion On Impact

That night I emceed the affair, some of the time with my torso wrapped in Saran Wrap. Hey, it looked so cool. I sang with a band made up of brothers Dan Roth, on keyboards and guitar, and Dave Roth, on drums, who were friends of Matt’s, and Sarah Baggett, a friend of mine, on bass. We called ourselves “Explosion On Impact,” which Matt had said would be a great band name. It was our only performance. We stormed through a set of covers of Presidents of the United States of America, The Doors, “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” by DVDA (as I swam through a crowd of old folks barking into a wirless mic), and a polka medley a la Weird Al Yankovic of Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill songs. At some point I said if anyone had scissors and the crowd could gather up some cash, people could get in line and cut my afro off. It was the longest my hair had ever been. A member of the band that played before us, Red Afternoon, said he actually had clippers in his van. Perfect. As we played through Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling,” a favorite of my brother’s, the inebriated folks came up front, cash in hand, and took swipes at my hair with the clippers. We made $300 from that, despite some old man at the union hall we held this at telling us to get off the stage and pack up.

Explosion On Impact performing “Kick Out the Jams” by Presidents of the United States of America. Video by Ted Stahl.

 Explosion On Impact performing “The Crystal Ship” and “Light My Fire” by The Doors. Video by Ted Stahl.

There was an amazing after party at a house following this event. On top of that open bar, we took what was left over to finish it off. There had to be around 50 people that were there spread out over 2 floors, easily. There were a lot of hugs and saying “We did it!” I can’t say I know exactly how Matt’s death affected each of those people in that year prior, but that night was a great release of so much energy and emotion.

Scan066, February 15, 200407

After party

The following morning, my mother and I drove the proceeds to Kansas City, 4 hours away. I was hung over and my blood sugar was high and out of control. She pulled over for me to puke twice. We seemed to make it to KC in pretty good time nonetheless. We met up with the director of the organization we raised the funds for. I imagine I looked like death, considering I was freshly bald, pale as a ghost from the nausea, and exhausted from the night before. The director was a nice, older woman that thought it would be good for me to eat something and she wanted to show her appreciation, so she took us out for a steak dinner.

It seems fitting that shortly after this, just a couple of months, I met the woman who would someday be my wife. You don’t completely move on from episodes like that, but we must go on living without being miserable. We must remember the person we lost and make something good out of whatever bad there is. There were golf tournaments that my parents hosted in memory of Matt. In total, with those events and smaller internet fundraisers, our family has raised close to $30,000 in Matt’s name for the Vasculitis Foundation, which created The Matthew Thomas Varagona Memorial Grant, which was applied to a study that investigated the susceptibility of genes to lead to Wegener’s in family members of patients. There’s a scholarship in his honor that is awarded at the St. Joan of Arc Golf Tournament every year to an 8th grader entering high school, as he was that year he passed.

I talk to my 5 year old son about his Uncle quite a bit. He’s playing many of the same games and with the same toys Matt and I played with. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Legos never get old. Matt may be gone, but he’s still around.


14 Years

14 years ago today, my brother Matt was turning 14. The birthday festivities we had planned for him were postponed. He was glued to my parents’ couch for several days by then. I remember the hacking cough. The pediatrician had said it was a bad case of the flu. He even said that after the hacking cough was producing blood.

A little over 5 years separated us. I remember before he was born, I was wishing, hoping, and praying for a little brother. I guess I put the pressure on my parents. My sister, Sara, and I stayed at our Grandma Phil’s house when my mother went into labor with Matt. At some point, we got the call that we had a little brother. I said, “I think I’m going to cry,” and sure enough. It was my first memory of having tears of joy. He was our little MTV (Matthew Thomas Varagona). I’m sure my sister and I had some kind of a say in those initials.

We weren’t the greatest brothers to each other, but the love was there. There were periods of time when we would cuss at each other and chase each other with eating utensils around the house. I’m sure it was under the acceptable level of what brothers can do to each other. Matt had a reputation of being a shit disturber, and I’m sure some of that came from having to deal with me. Much of it though is up to interpretation. He had a great sense of humor, but much of it came from challenging authority. It was our way. There was a brutal honesty in that attitude. We came to understand each other, I think. He may not have understood why my afro was bleach blonde in 1997 and told me multiple times to dye it back. And I may not have understood his musical tastes, such as his liking of Kid Rock, but we did our own thing and had some respect for each other.

I gave Matt a bell for those days on the couch. He would ring it, and I would scream from the basement, “I’M COMING!” as I ran upstairs. I’d assist him by getting a drink or a bite to eat. I had decided not to go back to school after my first semester of college, so I had the time to help. Around his birthday, the crap that this boy was spitting up was awful. There had to be a couple of inches in the bottom of his couch-side trashcan. He wasn’t acting like it was anything worse than the flu, but something was obviously wrong. I expressed to my mother that we needed to take him somewhere and on the 7th or the 8th, we did. When she told me that I needed to help her get him to the hospital, I began to realize even more how things were. Matt was too weak to change his underwear and pants so I assisted him. We took him to the ER at St. Louis Childrens’ Hospital.

That first day, they had him in isolation. I called my job at the library and told them I wouldn’t be in until I knew more about my brother’s situation. I went back to work a month later. We traded turns feeding Matt ice chips. He was still talkative but in discomfort. Things seemed pretty serious, but no one knew what the hell was going on. The suspense had me smoking heavily. My family didn’t like that, but the Parliament Lights and their recessed filters helped.

He was admitted to the pediatric ICU. They had him hooked up to multiple monitors and IVs. It would be some time before the medical professionals had a decent idea of what was going on though. Matt and I had a moment together that night. A priest had just visited him to do the anointing of the sick. I had remarked how that was strange since they typically reserve that for dire situations. I don’t think either of us knew the severity of his case that night. I don’t remember the conversation but we talked a while and it was light. These are the moments you wish you had perfect recollection of, but those details fade.

I believe I spent the night at home. When I returned, my mother informed me that Matt was put in a medically induced coma to get a better handle on what was going on. I regretted not spending more time with him the night before. Hell, I regretted not being there when they told him they were going to that and when they did. The machines in his room increased in number. There was a canister filling with the blood and miscellaneous fluids from his lungs. It’s a horrible feeling knowing that the people trained to handle the medical case at hand don’t know all. They can only go through the motions, maybe keeping up with whatever is wreaking havoc, but without knowing, it’s just a guessing game. And they told us that in so many words.

Three days into Matt’s stay at the hospital, a doctor took my family into a private room. It was a dimly lit room with plenty of tissue, so it wasn’t the room for good news. The doctor said at this current rate, we needed to prepare for Matthew to die. His kidneys were failing. His lungs were failing. Whatever was in him was tearing through his lungs like razor blades. Of course we all started bawling, and through that, had to repeat it all to my Granddad who was in the room and was very hard of hearing.

Matt’s friends and their families came to visit daily. They brought birthday and ‘get well’ balloons. I would go with them down to the hospital chapel at times to talk about Matt and about life. While in the ICU, his high school acceptance letter arrived from Bishop DuBourg. We talked to him, not knowing if he could hear us. I would talk to him about getting Crazy Taxi for the Dreamcast for us to play and splurging on a steering wheel for it, but he had to get out of that bed first. We had to rub his feet and exercise his legs to prevent bed sores. As the days went by, I was sleeping some nights at the hospital. My sister did as well. My parents never left. I had to tend to our dogs at home. We always hoped for different and better news in the morning. How could this have progressed so quickly? How did it just appear to be the flu to doctors?

On the 13th, there was a birthday party for a friend of mine. My family pushed me to get out. Matthew’s condition wouldn’t change during that time, they said. I had friends sign a ‘Get well’ card for him while at the party. Some hadn’t even met him, but every little bit helps, right? My friend had said he was surprised I went to his party. He didn’t have high hopes for the situation. He had seen the death of his mother several years prior. It was a very odd feeling to be in the midst of all of this and to be considering a future unlike anything I knew before.

We were told what to expect if he made it out of the state he was in. Failing kidneys can get dialysis, failing lungs were trickier. They were considering a few possibilities on diagnosis, including Good Pasture’s Disease, but at some point the doctors settled on Wegener’s Granulomatosis (now known as Granulomatosis with polyangiitis), an auto-immune disease that usually hit folks in their 40s or 50s. The treatment would’ve involved long-term immunosuppression. People could live with the condition though if caught early enough. It did not look good for Matt though.

The doctors informed us he would be put on ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which from what I remember, helped oxygenate his blood since his lungs were being ravaged. The hope was that it would allow his body to rest and at some point it would be a bridge to further treatment. If the patient is weaned off and the body doesn’t take charge, it obviously is fatal. It was another machine in the mix, adding to the beeping, pumping, and digital readouts around our Matthew.

I had many late nights at the hospital during this time, drinking coffee in their cafeteria and going outside for a few cigs. On the hour in the cafeteria, they played a song. Sometimes the theme to Star Wars, sometimes it was “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles. I still think of those times when I hear the melody to “Yellow Submarine.”

One day, I was told that they would be taking him out of the coma, only for a few moments, I’m assuming to make sure he was still responsive. I went in there and watched him open his eyes. There was too much crap on him helping him breathe and just live that he couldn’t speak. It has to be so terrifying to wake up basically in a shell of a body, that you can’t move or speak and you have no idea what is going on. I talked to Matt, being as gentle about an explanation as possible. I only hope he was well drugged up at that point enough to not feel all of the tubes, needles, and nonsense connected to him.

I remember waking up on the 20th at the hospital and my sister had told me my dad didn’t think Matt was alive anymore. His body had become purple and swollen. It was a difficult sight. A holy roller co-worker of my father’s came to pray over my brother with a chaplain friend. The family allowed them to do so outside the door to the ICU. They were waving their arms and speaking in tongues. It was a bit much for me. During one of the saddest times of my life, it brought out a snicker. I’m confident Matt would’ve done the same.

The doctors assured us he was still alive, but prepared us for taking him off of ECMO the next day. We remained hopeful but by that time, had prepared somewhat for the end. The 21st was a Monday. The swelling and color had subsided a bit. Visitors for Matthew were arriving that afternoon, not knowing what they were getting into. My mother, father, and sister went to his bedside after they took him off of the ECMO machine. We were telling him to be strong and he could do it. With time, I was breaking down and yelling at him, calling him an asshole, and telling him he couldn’t die on us. I ran out bawling and into a crowd waiting for news. Co-workers, friends, and family were all waiting. The holy roller organized a prayer circle. I am no religious man, nor was I much of one at that time. It was beautiful to see people gather for my brother and wish him the best outcome. Once the speaking in tongues started up though, I grinned through tears.

It’s so surreal to go somewhere with somebody and have to leave forever without them. The grief was unbearable at times. The night he died, I stayed overnight with about 10 of his friends. We stayed up most of the night telling stories about the person that we all knew, many new to me, which painted a bigger picture of the brother I just lost.

Funerals are sad. Funerals for young people are horrible. When that person is someone so close, it is unimaginable. I tried my best to get “Soul Bossa Nova,” the theme to Austin Powers by Quincy Jones played at Matt’s funeral. Alas, I was voted down. I suppose it wasn’t possible in a Catholic church. We did sing “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens, which warmed my heart. On the way to the cemetery, I looked out the back window of the limo transporting my family. I saw a line of cars that went back beyond my line of sight. I remarked that I had never seen anything like it. My dad said, “And hope you never see anything like it again.” We ended Matt’s burial ceremony by blasting Kid Rock’s “Only God Knows Why” on a boombox that my sister gave my brother for Christmas. We blasted it in a national cemetery. There was something very hoosier, very sticking it to the man, very perfect, and very Matt about it.

It’s been 14 years since Matt turned 14. It feels so strange to realize he’s been gone for as long as he was here. We keep his memory alive as much as possible through benefits, fundraising drives, and just telling stories. My 5 year old son has heard so much about his uncle that he never met, that he talks about him as if they’ve spent so much time together. While that dark February sticks with me, sometimes so vividly, it is a constant reminder to not take the small things in life so seriously. It is a reminder to enjoy every moment you have just living and to enjoy everyone around you, because we don’t know how and when it will end for any of us. I’m sure Matt would approve of that.

Thanks for reading.

Matt, myself, and Sara at my high school graduation in May of 1999

Matt, myself, and Sara at my high school graduation in May of 1999

Oh Aughts, You Were Something

The past 10 years for me have been bookended by two life changing events on complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. My brother, Matt, passed away on February 21, 2000. That was shortly after the high of seeing our St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl with The Greatest Show On Turf on January 30, 2000. I hit rock bottom after Matt died. It made me experience emotions I didn’t think were possible. I quit school, started chain smoking, and amassed credit card debt that I still have remnants of today.

To make something positive of it and get out of a funk, I thought up and helped organize a dinner/silent auction/rock concert in his memory on March 30, 2001 (video here and here). We raised $19,000 towards research through what is now the Vasculitis Foundation. I consider it my greatest accomplishment aside from my son.

Shortly after, in May of ’01, I met my wife, well, she was just some chick at the time that I lapdanced for, later my wife. She straightened me up, making me quit smoking and go back to school if I wanted to get any closer to her. It worked. I graduated in May of ’05. And I asked her to marry me that night by singing a version of “That’s Amore” accompanied by my friend Dan on accordion surrounded by friends, family, and rose petals. We tied the knot in May of ’06.

Together we had adventures with a shitty landlord and mice. I was laid off from a job in the Italian Retail Service shortly after we were wed. What doesn’t kill you only makes you bitter, or something. We survived though.

I went on to be a traveling baby photographer exposing me to a wide variety of people. My days took me from trailer parks to mansions. At least the jobs I get keep me entertained.

From there I ended up at InkStop, a great opportunity, so I was told. It did pay well and helped us get our first home. We actually moved in days before my son was born. Things were going great, but I saw signs that this employer would go down horribly, and it did. I’ve been unemployed for about 3 months now except for a gig promoting phones for a few weeks. The nice thing is I’ve been able to spend time with my son and he can get to know me more, because I was working a pretty hefty schedule since January.

I’ve had to grow a lot during this decade. Some of that came a lot sooner than I thought it would. You roll with the punches though. This decade has been a learning experience and except for the whole job thing, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction now thanks to my wife, son, family, and friends. I’m hoping the teens go easy on me though.

Merry Christmas To Most

As the year winds down and we are in the midst of the holidays, I count my blessings. My son made it through a scary Craniosynostosis surgery without any complications. We spent our first year in our first home without any huge issues. I may have lost my job, but we have survived, no thanks to those that put us and countless others in this hairy position.

I wonder if InkStop CEO, Dirk Kettlewell and his wife Dawn, who was a VP in the company, sleep well at night knowing of all the lives they affected by yanking employment from people and the money owed for their last 3 weeks worked as well as various vacation and expenses. This was not a sign of the times. This was not a product of the economy. Do not give me your bullshit lines of how the poor economy has hit many hard and blame the government for this group of unemployed, like I see so many times as I read through comments on articles about what happened at InkStop.

As a store manager in one of their stores, I saw otherwise that points to pure ignorance in terms of running a business and/or a great scheme for a handful of folks to make their money not caring what vendors, landlords, or employees they rip off along the way. A little over a year ago, managers were gathered to preview the upcoming holiday season. We saw merchandise that never came around and some that did, but a couple of weeks before Christmas. We were told that the company would turn a profit and we could expect great things. From there, we had ads in Sunday papers that showed products that we had small quantities of or none of at all. We were given orders to presell items on the first day they were advertised. i myself have never been to a retail establishment that offered to presell anything beyond upcoming video game releases, but we did this week after week. Hell, we needed some profit, and sometimes most of it was from items that did not exist in our stores yet. We had anticipated dates that would fluctuate. We would not only presell, but if you didn’t want to pay ahead, we’d still put you on a list and call you if we ever got what you wanted in. Most phone calls I would receive around this time were having to with when the product would be coming in that someone paid for or was put on a list for. Our binder of people that had prepaid or were waiting for product was pretty lengthy. This is not how retail usually operates folks.

When it came to Black Friday, I asked for assurances from people above me that we would have sufficient quantities, since we had previously had issues with that, especially items on the front page of our ad. I asked if we should hold items back for that day. I received mixed messages on that so we held back what we could and of course were still left in a bind. We had pink Kodak cameras advertised that we originally were told we would get no more of in for our Black Friday ad, which is crazy, but we ended up getting a couple last minute. It was still quite frightening explaining we had one less than advertised to the line of people that had braved the cold weather at 4:30 in the morning outside of an ink store. They should’ve known better.

Okay, so mistakes are made, but in my time in retail, I had never seen anything like this, and I’m sure the majority of consumers can say they haven’t either. Some have said, that’s the pain of being a startup. Well at that point, we were 3 Christmases in with this company. A company with “a management team that’s done it before” (a quote directly from Mr. Kettlewell) should know not to advertise product that they can’t meet demand on and to be opening the majority of its new locations during the month of November, which eats up funds and existing inventory when both of those are already in short supply.

As time went by, we entered the new year with all print advertising suspended and any shipments virtually non-existent. Obviously something was wrong, yet money was spent on canvassing brochures and coupons that we were to treat like gold. Instead that money could have been spent on keeping ink on our shelves, since we were, say it with me now, INK-Stop. We turned more and more customers away each day giving new excuses as we went along, because we were in the dark as much as they were. Sure, vendors would not give us product. You cannot receive what you do not pay for.

By spring, many vendors were suing InkStop already for non-payment and before summer began, landlords got on board. We were told not paying landlords would help them renegotiate leases. If I were the landlord, I would sue the piss out of them and go on my way, since they obviously were not good for anything. Traffic at my location was down to under 5 paying customers most days, since we were turning many away that we did not have ink for. They began advertising on the radio here, which seemed odd considering you are inviting people into a store that already is an embarrassment and instead of getting your act together and filling shelves with needed product, you waste money on another venue to bring people into our store and get ticked off. I only hope this management team that has done this before doesn’t get the chance to do this again. If they do, I can only blame the company that decides to hire them, not the economy or whatever else is convenient.

Just in case you don't see one sign, there are many...and a guy wearing one waving more signs.

Now my former store is finishing liquidating product as part of the bankruptcy of InkStop. Hopefully some money comes from that. I am owed over $3000 in wages and vacation pay. I imagine most of the 400+ that were screwed over in this mess are missing out on $2-3K that they rightfully earned. I wonder if the Kettlewell’s are having a Christmas at all. I’m sure they are, but it’s a shame if you figure all of the Christmases they’ve affected. I’m sure others on the board of InkStop, which include Dale Fuller, John Bulgarella, Mark Race, B. Charles Ames, Norbert “Nobby” Lewandowski, Richard Ames, Michael A. Clegg, James J. Hummer, James Mastrian, Michael Shaughnessy, Norman “Boomer” Esiason, William Heinzerling, and Harvey Sanders will have a wonderful holiday with their families. Even if they didn’t make most consequential decisions in this company, their hands were in the pot. If they paid more attention, this could have ended sooner with a warning so that folks could leave on a brighter note with all of their money. Good thing that towards the end (from “InkStop Started With a Bang and Ended With a Bust” by Janet Cho in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 12/21/09):

…even as revenue streams from investors were dwindling, the company issued nearly $5.3 million worth of checks and wire transfers to its directors and senior managers, according to court documents. Directors were repaid for their previously issued notes: $1.7 million to Richard Ames; $1.2 million to James Hummer’s Luxemburg Capital; $369,000 to B. Charles Ames; $350,000 to James Mastrian; and $109,268 to Norman “Boomer” Esiason.

Company executives were reimbursed for their expenses, including $143,495 to Dirk Kettlewell and $80,328 to Mark Race, vice president of real estate; and $10,451 to Dawn Kettlewell.

Doesn’t it give you that warm feeling? If you figure an average of $3K for each of the 456 employees that lost jobs when it all went sour, that would only make $1.37 million. I’m sure these multi-millionaires could afford to toss some money our way, but we’ll have to fight tooth and nail for whatever we can get instead in the courts. It’s a shame how these things work. All of these big wigs can go put their money into something else without paying much attention to it.

More signs. Hopefully something good comes from this ugliness.

Yes, I’m ranting here, and that isn’t what the holidays are about, but I only wish some couldn’t have any enjoyment out of this at all and others could have a much better holiday with all of their bills caught up on and being able to give their children and grandchildren everything they want for Christmas.

I have realized through all of this that the gifting does not matter. The fact that we all have friends and family and are thankful for each and every moment we can spend with them, even through those dramatic times, is great and is what this is all about. No matter if there is deep religious meaning to this holiday or not for you, it is about being with our personal support groups and eating a crapload of food. Enjoy that. And Merry Christmas to all most, and to most a good night (may the other crooks have horrible gut wrenching nightmares of their money evaporating).

Meat and Potatoes Man

I’m not proud of these things, but since I have been home with my son due to my unemployment, I’ve noticed changes. Today, while walking with my wife and son around the park, the conversation was different. We don’t have cable or satellite, so while I play with Dylan, I get a steady diet of talk shows, court shows, and other daytime TV. We talked about a recent Tyra episode, and she tried to get me to catch up on Days of Our Lives for her, but I won’t do Soaps.

I brought up how I was affected by today’s Dr. Oz. There was a 53 year old cowboy by the name of Rocco who was “a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” I consider myself to be the same. I don’t eat many vegetables at all. I have a gag reflex that kicks in if I get a hint of a vegetable near me or my plate. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My parents used to pay me to try a vegetable (or most fruits for that matter) a couple of times a year, and even that didn’t always work. There are some exceptions. I eat starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas (a strange choice of green, I know). Rocco did seem to consume more saturated fats than me though, taking in two and a half pounds a week!

Dr. Oz convinced Rocco, with scare tactics showing the effects on his body (he had the heart of an 85 year old man because of the plaque buildup), to take a 28 day challenge of a vegan diet. So Rocco does it with dramatic changes to his blood sugar, waist line, and cholesterol. He must’ve been okay with veggies at least a little bit. The adjustment for me would be very difficult considering how I react to anything green. I can sneak by other veggies not listed above by eating salsa or some soups. For some reason, I really dig lentil soup. Progresso’s version has a full serving of vegetables in each serving, so it makes me feel like I’m doing something when I eat that with some brown rice.

Rocco developed Type 2 Diabetes from his eating habits, which older, overweight people tend to get, but can be controlled and even gotten rid of by improving diet and exercise choices. I myself was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 12. The difference being I didn’t cause it, bad genetics did, or at least that’s one of the popular theories. I can, however, help myself out by controlling my habits better than I do though. I also was diagnosed with a fatty liver about a year ago. The main way to get rid of that is stop eating so shitty and lose some weight. Here I am still gradually gaining weight since my high school years. Why just yesterday, I ate 16 hot wings at 11 pm. It’s also worth mentioning I have slightly elevated blood pressure enough that I am on medication for that which should also have a positive effect on the liver.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

So do I go vegan for 28 days? I’m not sure I could. I have tried Boca burgers, and I think I could stand them. I don’t know. Today, I decided no more soda for a while at least. It’s one thing I don’t have to avoid in the house right now. I was only drinking diet sodas, but the carbonation can have some ill effects towards the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. I don’t feel comfortable saying I will keep something out of my diet that is still staring me in the face at my house. I could throw stuff out, but we don’t have much money for more food as it is. Over the next several weeks, I’d like to get something going though.

My wife will surely be supportive if I get this going and actually make progress, but she knows better than any that I have tried things in the past only to stop after two or three weeks. This is an eating disorder that is affecting my Diabetes and I’m sure is dulling my nerves and wreaking other havoc on my body. Hell, I had a scare last winter with not having feeling in my big toe for weeks due to the dulling of the nerves from too many high blood sugars. Yes, it’s silly that a daytime talk show got to me, but there was enough underlying. It’s time. I have a child now that should be motivation enough to improve my lifestyle, so that I can be there for him and see his future. Hopefully putting this out there holds me to this now. There is nothing set in stone as far as goal or how, but I will figure that out in the coming days.


In the past month since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve developed routines and become used to things following those. I have no problem getting out of those, but it’s weird how fast one can get accustomed to a new way of life. It never seems to be how you think it will be, good or bad.

Considering I was previously working for a floundering company, business was very slow and we accomplished the necessary work each day within a small amount of time. I am hanging out with my 1 year old son now, which keeps me much busier, but without a paycheck. Of course this is much more enjoyable, however the money is a must and it becomes more necessary everyday as some bills go late or unpaid.

I haven’t slacked at seeking employment despite this busier life. I just have to try apply for jobs during Dylan’s naps. Most of that time though is used for keeping the house in order, which leads to late night job seeking. After my son goes to sleep, and after my wife hits the hay or goes to work, the magic happens. Well, who am I kidding? There’s no magic. No interviews. No calls, except for silly insurance and financial advising companies wanting me to take a job without a safety net and a lot of the times without credibility. While InkStop was falling face first into the ground during the past, well, year, I occasionally had bursts of job hunting, but it was an easy, decent paying gig and I enjoyed seeing and talking to my regular clientele. There was no rush. This is a frustrating process especially when you see the same jobs and types of jobs out there. Searching everyday on multiple job sites sadly doesn’t produce more or different results very often.

What to do? I’ve considered going it alone, but I’m not sure what I’d do. I do have a sickly CafePress shop that breaks even every month and may do better if I put something into it, but it wouldn’t be that much of a difference in income. During political seasons, I really cleaned up with it. I do have some interesting ideas on what can be done with pizza, but have no real experience starting or running a restaurant, so if anyone wants to talk about it, drop me a line.

I could sell myself. I mean not prostitution, well not in its usual sense. There are those folks that tattoo themselves with a company logo, wear the same branded clothes for a year, drive a car plastered with ads, and much crazier things for companies to make a buck. So come on Knorks and Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee, gimme all you got. More folks need to know about those products and I’m the guy to tattoo them on.

Or maybe I just need sleep.

All Clear

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan’s follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon regarding his Craniosynostosis went great. The doc pointed out a bulge on each side of Dylan’s forehead and said that those were plates that would absorb within a year. He said that things went very well.

We were able to see the results from the CT scan that was done last week. The doctor showed us the first image of Dylan’s skull from when he was first diagnosed. We observed the ridge in the skull and the resulting bulge in the back. We then segued into images taken last week, which showed a dramatic improvement. The ridge was virtually gone and the head looked so much rounder and normal. He said we shouldn’t have to have any more follow up visits with them. That’s great because no matter how on time we were, we always waited at least a half hour to be seen.

Apparently given the good results of the surgery and my son’s good looks, which he obviously got from me, they asked us to send them photos, so that he could be considered for advertising for the hospital. Since my career as a model didn’t take off, I have the highest hopes for my son now. I promise not to become a stage dad.

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

My Cranio Kid

A few months into my 1 year old son Dylan’s life, the pediatrician commented that his head shape looked odd. He had us take Dylan to a plastic surgeon at the children’s hospital, who confirmed that our son had Sagittal Craniosynostosis. In simple terms, it meant Dylan’s soft spot was virtually closed up early on rather than taking its course over a year.

From WebMD:

More than half of all cases involve the sagittal suture. The sagittal suture runs across the top of a baby’s head from front to back. The baby’s brain usually develops normally in these cases, but the head becomes abnormally shaped. The skull may become long and narrow or very flat and broad in front or back or on the sides. This depends on which suture closes prematurely.

So most likely, Dylan would have been fine if we left this alone, but doctors told us his already large (over the 90th percentile for his age and compare that to his height and weight which are under the 15th percentile) and abnormally shaped head would continue at that rate. To give our son a normal shaped head while we had the opportunity was a difficult decision given in involved cutting a piece out of his skull and that the surgery would take 5-8 hours. We decided to do it, but had to wait until he could better handle the anesthesia around the suggested 9 month range.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

On June 29, 2009, Dylan went in for surgery. He was so happy in the morning even though we had to get him up at 5 in the AM and he hadn’t eaten since midnight. He was smiling at his nurses and doctors not knowing what lay ahead.

We were told that during most of the 5-8 hours that Dylan would be out, he would be resting on the operating table while the work would be done on the piece of his skull on a separate table. The piece would be taken out and have slits cut into it like venetian blinds. It would then be reinserted with those slits giving the skull room to grow normally. The incision had a zig-zag to it to help hair grow in better to mask the scarring. He would look fairly normal immediately after surgery except for being on drugs and having a large bandage wrapped around his head. After the first hour or so, the swelling would set in, swelling his eyes shut, which compounded with any pain felt despite the drugs would be the most traumatic for our son.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

When it came time to hand Dylan over to the medical professionals for the procedure, I became very emotional. It was the most emotional I’ve been since my brother passed away. It was a definite moment of realization in my short time as a parent so far of the extent of my love for the little guy.  We had all of the assurances from the doctors that they do these things fairly often, but they were cutting into my son’s friggin’ head.

To pass the time, my wife and our parents sat around talking and using the hospital’s wifi. I kept folks abreast of developments through my Twitter account.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

We actually received the call sooner than we expected that they had finished. I hoped that was a good sign, and it was. Everything went well and according to how it was explained to us. It was very difficult to see him so swollen and the whine he had during his time in the hospital will stick with me. It was kind of drawn out and drugged up. He spent a day and a half in the PICU and another day for observation. By then he was off the major painkillers and opening his eyes again.

When we got home, he received lots of Tylenol. He seemed more annoyed than in pain. He not only had a bandage wrapped around his head, but the itchiness of the stitches, which dissolved and fell out over time. Luckily or not, he also had his first teeth coming in the week this was all going on, so he seemed to focus on the pain of his teething more than anything.

It has been about three and a half months since the surgery. We went for one successful follow up a month after. A few days ago, Dylan had a CT scan to check things out to make sure everything looked good. If it does, we shouldn’t need anymore follow-ups.  Dylan has turned 1 and since his procedure, his hair has grown in well to cover up the scarring. His head has a great shape to it now, which seems like a weird thing to say, but that was the goal of this, which should make his life easier. No one wants to be that guy with the odd shaped head.

Dylan maxin & relaxin

Dylan maxin & relaxin

The Afterbirth

I blogged regularly for about 3 years on the DiabetoBlog. The archives can still be seen here http://www.diabetoboy.com/diabetoblog.html

I slowed and eventually stopped around the time my son and first child, Dylan Matthew (named for Bob Dylan and my late brother Matt), was born a little over a year ago.  Work was bogging me down as well as settling into a new house, our first.

Days before my son turned 1, I was laid off from my job as a retail manager, which is a story in and of itself, but more on that later. Now I contemplate: What to do? Where do I go from here? How can I provide for my family?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Media Communications, which has proven to be worthless for me. Since graduating and getting married several years ago, I have been in the retail trap. Once you have the skills and experience, those jobs are always there. The experience of dealing with all types of people is always entertaining for me. I enjoy helping people, even if it is finding what ink they need for their printer or explaining the differences of latex and lambskin condoms to a person much older than me (true story).

Given this economy we are in, who knows where I will end up? I’m enjoying spending time with my son and wife. I was seeing less and less of them with my previous job, so in a way, this is a great reset for me. This is a time to unwind from the stress of a bad situation, get to know my family again, and get to know myself for that matter.

R.I.P. Cody “Eda” Mulligan 6/7/1997-8/24/2005

My fiance’s dog, Cody, passed away earlier today. My sympathies to the family. And he was a definite member of the family. He put up with being blind very well for the past year, and he was the happiest dog I’ve ever met. Rest in peace little buddy.

copyright MMV-MMVII Jim Varagona and Diabetoboy Productions.

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